Doncaster, South Yorkshire

Janette Sykes takes a brief look at the history of a South Yorkshire town that's a certainty for success <br/>PHOTOGRAPHS BY BRIAN ROSS

Known as Danum to the Romans, Doncaster has a long and distinguished history, largely built on its strategic transport links, coal mining and the railway and locomotive industries. A Roman fort was built in the first century AD next to a crossing over the river Don - hence the suffix 'castra', Latin for 'military camp'.

Somewhat prophetically, given its later links with horse racing and the St Leger Classic Flat race, the town played host to the Roman Crispinian horse garrison, named after Crispus, son of Constantine the Great.

For the Romans, Doncaster offered an alternative route between Lincoln and York, avoiding the need to cross the river Humber, so became an important transport hub - a role that continues to this day in its capacity as a busy distribution centre.

In Norman times, Doncaster acquired its own castle, and by the 12th century had become a bustling town, which was granted a charter by King Richard I in 1194. Just 10 years later, a huge fire razed its wooden buildings to the ground, but it rose like a phoenix from the ashes and gained its own market charter in 1248.

More than seven centuries on, around 600 indoor stalls and a lively, open air market still thrive at the former Corn Exchange - giving it a reputation as one of the biggest and finest of its kind in the north. Not only can shoppers select the finest fresh foods and a host of other goods, they can enjoy the added bonus of music, performing arts and exhibitions in the Forum.

Doncaster's love affair with horseracing began in the 16th century, when the town became involved in the lucrative stagecoach trade. It offered the ideal location, on the main route for all traffic from London to Edinburgh, and Doncaster made the most of its good geographical fortune.

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Horse breeding led to horse racing and the town became a key centre for both Flat and National Hunt disciplines, becoming home to the famous St Leger in 1776, and still hosting the first and final races of the Flat season on turf. In the late 18th century,

Doncaster's wealth of deep seam coal helped fuel the Industrial Revolution, supplying key steel making centres in Sheffield, Rotherham and Scunthorpe, until the steel works closed and most of the pits followed suit, in the 1980s. Other industries linked to coal - such as glass production, manufacturing chemical polymers, steel foundries, and wire rope making - also sprang up. The town's coal also led to its leading role in the railway network and locomotive industry.

Its first-class communication links, plentiful supply of fuel and flair for specialist metal products made it the natural choice for the Great Northern Railway Locomotive and Carriage Building Works - famous for making the Mallard and the Flying Scotsman, among thousands of others. In the 21st century, transport continues to make a major contribution to Doncaster's prosperity.

Strategically placed on the main East Coast railway line, the town has direct links with communities ranging from London to Leeds and Manchester to Birmingham, and is served by the largest number of train operators in the UK.

It also has an International Rail Freight Centre with connections to Europe and a host of warehouses and logistics centres, prime position on the motorway network and Robin Hood Airport, all underlining its continuing importance as a strategic hub - a stroke of geographical good fortune first recognised by those clever Romans, all those centuries ago.

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